Online Book Club Builds Literacy for AHC Afterschool Students

Engaging students during the pandemic was a key challenge for AHC’s multi-pronged educational program, which supports youth living in affordable apartment communities from kindergarten through high school.

When the pandemic prevented in-person learning opportunities, AHC’s Resident Services staff pivoted to online programming to keep students connected. Helping early readers stay on track was a particular challenge since many had little experience working online and often irregular access to devices.

As the year evolved, volunteers played a valuable role in providing different kinds of literacy-building opportunities for students. One such initiative was a weekly book club created by Anna Niepold, a senior at Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart in Bethesda, MD. The book club met weekly over Zoom, serving kindergarten through second graders in AHC’s Afterschool Program at Virginia Gardens apartments in Arlington, VA.

Typical meetings included fun icebreaker games followed by either Anna’s team members or the students reading books out loud before reflecting on them through art, discussion, or other activities. The group read a variety of different books based on students’ feedback as well as on reading levels. Some of the favorite books include The Good Egg by Jory John and The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Dewalt.

“Anna was a great help to staff and students during an unprecedented time,” said Melissa Mulé, AHC Resident Services Manager. “Her willingness to assist virtually and arrive to sessions with a smiling face made a difference in the lives of our students. Reading aloud to the class was a great way to promote literacy and keep them engaged.”

Anna initiated the volunteer project as part of the Girl Scout Gold Award program. The Gold Award involves working on a project the girl cares about and requires 80 hours of commitment. Anna’s long-time love of reading and appreciation for the value of reading comprehension skills spurred the creation and format of the Book Club.

“Our team really enjoyed the experience of creating a fun learning environment,” said Anna. “The kids were all incredible, and as time went on, they really began to open up and display their amazing progress in their reading confidence and comprehension. I hope aspects of the program can continue throughout AHC’s Afterschool program, and hopefully we made a difference sharing the joy reading can bring.”

AHC is grateful for the many volunteers and community partners who help make our education programs possible. For more information on volunteering, please visit https://www.ahcinc.org/get-involved/volunteers/.